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December 10, 2009
Governor General arrives in Guatemala
and meets the President
OTTAWA—On the first official day of their State visit to the Republic of Guatemala, Their Excellencies the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada, and her husband, Mr. Jean-Daniel Lafond, met with His Excellency Alvaro Colom Caballeros, President of the Republic of Guatemala. Their Excellencies are visiting the country from December 9 to 12, 2009.
At the National Palace in Guatemala City, the Governor General and Mr. Lafond were welcomed with military honours during an official ceremony. The Governor General delivered a speech on security, democracy, good governance and the fight against impunity:
“We reconfirm our support to all those who are working to preserve and consolidate the democratic institutions that are essential to peace, security and development in Guatemala and the implementation of a state of law for the well-being of Guatemalans,” said the Governor General.
She then participated in the Change of the White Rose for Peace Ceremony, an event that commemorates the signing of the Peace Accords ending Guatemala’s 36-year civil war. Every day since then, the Army Honour Guard places a white rose on a monument in the courtyard of the National Palace, to celebrate another day of peace in the country and the renewed peace process.
Speech delivered by the Governor General at the official welcoming ceremony with military honours in the Republic of Guatemala on December 10, 2009:
I would like to start by telling you how delighted we are—my husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond, our delegation and I—to be continuing, here in Guatemala, a journey from the north to the centre of the Americas, a journey that began in Mexico and will end in Costa Rica.
Guatemala reminds us loud and clear that this continent’s history did not begin with the arrival of Christopher Columbus.
We are here in a region that is the cradle of an ancient civilization, that of the Mayans, who have managed to preserve their identity right up until the present day, despite invasions, conquests, massacres and those attempting to assimilate them.
It is a prestigious civilization of builders, artists and scientists who have made a priceless cultural contribution. Proof of this lies in the imposing ruins of palaces and pyramid-shaped temples, including those in the majestic city of Tikal, which we will have the pleasure of visiting.
When Europeans arrived on this continent, they saw this as a new world.
In one fell swoop, they erased an entire world that was very real, one that had been inhabited by civilizations for thousands of years.
It required a work of memory and historiography, conservation and preservation—like the work you did in the El Mirador park, in northern El Petén—to restore entire chapters in the first people’s history that had disappeared from memory, that had been rewritten, that had been tuned upside down or simply overshadowed, without any hesitation.
The first people, who are our deepest roots in this continent, were dispossessed. Dispossessed of their land, their rights, their dignity, of a rich and magnificent history.
Still today, from the north to the centre to the south, these people continue to be marginalized and to face discrimination and even repression.
Until we take back the history we share and the infinite wealth of these civilizations, the continent will still and always be divided into two worlds: one characterized by openness, progress and possibilities; the other, exclusion, injustice and inequality. Development on the one side and chronic under-development on the other, in your backyard as well as in ours.
Canada’s first State visit to Guatemala will allow us to measure the extent of our experiences, to evaluate the vibrancy of our exchanges and to explore new areas of co-operation and partnership to increase the prosperity of our peoples.
At a time when globalization requires us to redefine our global ties, when leaders across the Americas are trying to create very vast markets and develop joint positions on several important challenges facing their peoples, we must—every one of us—work towards reconciliation and peace.
In Canada, for example, we are in the process of shedding light on one of the most painful chapters in our history, that of the Indian residential school system.
For over a century, thousands of Aboriginal children were torn from their families, from their communities, only to be subjected to forced assimilation and, in many cases, to several forms of violence, humiliation and abuse.
A Truth and Reconciliation Commission was created to shed some light on this dark chapter in our history. This Commission will travel across Canada over the next five years to rebuild trust and bring people together.
I accepted to be the honorary witness to this journey Canadians decided to take with courage and responsibility, because I strongly believe in the shining promise of the truth.
I believe we must never turn away from the opportunity to rebuild our history together, for we have a responsibility to acknowledge its every aspect.
Excellency, in your inauguration speech, you said that you wanted to make Guatemala “a social democracy with a Mayan face,” and you announced a brave and ambitious program to fight poverty, inequalities, violence, crime and impunity.
Canada applauds the hope represented by this willingness to change, which must inevitably be supported by the commitment of civil society.
We believe that the contribution made the woman, men and youth of country—who make up a dynamic civil society—is absolutely essential.
And we reconfirm our support to all those who are working to preserve and consolidate the democratic institutions that are essential to peace, security and development in Guatemala and the implementation of a state of law for the well-being of Guatemalans.
We know that endemic poverty and insecurity undermine Guatemalans’ daily lives.
We also know that the climate of impunity promotes violence, especially towards women.
Canada—which believes in the principle of equality between genders—applauds the law against “femicide” passed by Guatemala’s Congress, and its commitment to the United Nations’ leading conventions on violence towards women.
Canada believes in the notions of rights and justice, which are absolutely essential to stability and peace.
That is why Canada actively supports the work of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, which was created by the United Nations in 2007 to put an end to organized crime and the crime networks that have spread across the entire continent with their illegal activities.
I am referring especially to the trafficking of people, narcotics and influence, and to the corruption, money laundering and violence that are ravaging our communities.
Moreover, our countries recently signed a new agreement under which Canada agrees to support the Regional Training Command for Peacekeeping Operations, located in Cobán.
Canada and Guatemala have, for a long time, had a special relationship in terms of development, notably through the Canadian International Development Agency’s assistance program.
During this State visit to Guatemala, we will have the opportunity to witness first hand the remarkable work being done by NGOs to reduce the levels of poverty and to counter the effect of the current food crisis, which is being exacerbated by the worldwide economic crisis.
One of the places we will travel to is the Sololá region—one of the poorest in Guatemala—where a group a Canadian organizations is working to increase and diversify agricultural production and to give producers access to national and international markets through a rural economic development program.
Security, good governance, complete respect for the dignity of Guatemalans of Mayan descent, the eradication of poverty: these issues are all of great concern to you, and to a new generation of Guatemalans.
We believe in your ability to meet these challenges, and you can count on our support and friendship.
We share the same continent, history and values.
In a world in which our fates are inextricably linked, we must join efforts, develop joint strategies and build on our solidarities.
That is what Canada invites you to do, with the assurance that your peace and development efforts are bright prospects for the future, not only for the people of Guatemala, but for all of the Americas.
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